Artist Sandra Turnbull: Sense and Sensuality

Catching The Comet'sTailThis week, Catching the Comet’s Tail hosts artist Sandra Turnbull.  A group show,”I Love You Because,” featuring 40 artist’s interpretations of Elvis, opens next week in London and includes Turnbull’s work. Prior to becoming an artist, Sandra co-managed the band Eurythmics and, after many years of nurturing the creativity of others, she has finally come to honour her own talents. A disclaimer: Sandra introduced me to my husband and once painted a picture of my bottom; two things I am immensely happy about. Check out this website to see the full scope of Turnbull’s vivid, sensual work.

Sandra Turnbull

Photo of Sandra Turnbull by Robert Goldstein

Sandra on creativity…

“My creativity  usually resides in my guts but it changes. When I was working on All About Eve, an exhibition about girls who work in the sex industry, it was in my gut and my nether regions!  My current body of work, The Buddhas, is in my heart and soul.

I reckon I channel. Thoughts come from… who knows where?  The muse visits me in surprising ways; in my sleep it leaves an imprint of an idea to paint. I wake with a vivid colour  and often a finished painting  just floating behind my eyes. After the idea, I look for a model to make it real. My best friend Jay has a great body and has made many appearances  in my work. My mate Jane also  crept into  several early water paintings. My partner Robert [Goldstein, ph0tographer] has a striking face, perfect to paint.  I don’t take too much credit for what I do. I put in the experiences, then some divine force charges through me and spews out images – it’s a compulsion – I don’t have a choice.

‘A Painting is never finished, it just stops in interesting places,’ my Godson Mickey said to me  a few years ago and I wrote it on the wall of my studio in black felt tip as an inspiration . My creative process has no censorship .

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early artistic influences?

“I was sent to dancing school most days from 2 years old. My parents didn’t know what to do with all my energy and dancing  became an obsession .  I ran away from home at 16 to join a dance troupe and that became my life. When I gave up  professional dancing,  I took up painting to fill the  creative void .  It was at this time that Hyper Kinetics was born and I became  one half of the management team for Eurythmics.  My dad, Annie Lennox, Joan Rhodes, Picasso, Robert Goldstein, all made me think I could do anything, either by example or by encouragement. So if I had a creative idea, I just went right out and made it happen.”

Please describe how  you put together the piece for the Elvis exhibition and say a little about solo projects you’re currently developing.

“The curator Harry Pye asked me to get involved with the Elvis show in early 201.3 I threw myself at it and finished the piece in March. It is almost as I envisaged it . That’s how it works for me . I conjure up a colour  get the ground prepared and then imagine what the finished painting looks like and go from there. In parallel,  I am working on the Buddha Series so I could only see Elvis as a Buddha, crossed-legged with the American flag pressing through his face. I loved painting Elvis. It made such a change from the Buddhas.  Before I paint, I do lots of visual research so I looked at every photo ever taken of Elvis and a lot of his impersonators… How do they get away with it ?!

Good Luck Buddha

One of Sandra’s Buddha Series

“I went to China in 2010 and came back needing to paint Buddhas. I was surprised how Buddhism is treated like superstition. Catholicism is the new religion there, crosses have replaced the Buddhas. I have painted 23 or 24 Buddhas. I sold a few and now I make prints and sell those so I can save the originals for a show next year.  I have another idea on the go too; Cut and Paste  which involves a central life-size image, surrounded by  collage. I am now obsessed with collecting magazines and own 10 pairs of scissors in all sizes… it’s my Blue Peter moment.”

How do you know when a painting is finished?

“I can kiss the lips of my painting – that’s when I know it’s finished. Weird I know, but it’s a fact. ”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what is guaranteed to kill it?

“I am inspired by vivid colour, sexy bodies, music, wide open spaces, depression, dreaming, and I’m uninspired by tiredness, idiots and anger.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore and what do you do when you feel blocked?

“I have never felt painting is a chore, thank God . A challenge yes, often, but that’s half the fun .

If I am ever blocked I paint pictures on boxes. My friends save boxes for me;  chocolate…shoe…biscuit…soap… any old box, large or small,  and I paint naked people on them … that usually gets the juices flowing and opens a few portals.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work or do you prefer to create alone?

“I work alone, I’m not keen on input. Robert might make a suggestion for a painting and I kindly suggest he might like to do that himself. I have been know to take the odd title he suggests for a piece of work though 🙂

Sandra Turnbull StudioPlease talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to create. 

“I have my studio at The Chocolate Factory N22 and have been there since 1999. I only paint there and it is my favourite place (see left).

My  heavenly studio is set up so I can walk in and not even bother to take my coat off and start painting . I’m usually working on 2 or 3 pieces at the same time so, whichever grabs me first, I start. It’s compulsive behaviour. Sometimes I am so into it that I forget to put music on. Other times I walk in, put a track on, start painting and play the same track on repeat all day. Sometimes I cry to the music I am playing and that affects the work. I eat a lot of crisps when I’m working. ”

Do you have a daily routine when you are painting and what is it like?  

I’m a daytime creator.  I plan my diary so I have carved out times to paint. I switch on during the drive to my studio.  My life is like an army manoeuver: I teach pilates full time, I’m a governor at a local special school, I train in marshall arts, yoga and weights, and this is apart from relationships and responsibilities with the home, family and friends. I have to plan or  it would all go pear-shaped very quickly.

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process…

Sandra Turnbull TalismanHere are three objects (see right):

1. My iphone doc…music is a driving force.

2. The palette of Joan Rhodes. Joan was the first person to encourage me to paint . She just said ,’Do It Sandra, put your work on the wall.’

3. The saying of Tom Waites: ‘You must risk something that matters’ – how true.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master? 

“Acting … I love acting . I did a course through Central St Martins in London and then a performance  at The Old Red Lion last year and, by all accounts, I was very good .  It was completely exhilarating and I will definitely do it again.”

 What are you working on next?

Buddhas – lots of them.

ElBuddha

ElBuddha by Sandra Turnbull

“I Love You Because”, a group show featuring 40 artists interpretations of Elvis curated by Harry Pye and Chloe Mortimer opens with a Private View on July 18th 6.30pm – 9pm at the A-Side B-Side Gallery, 5 to 9 Amhurst Terrace, London E8 2BT (The gallery is open Thurs to Sun, 12 till 6pm).

To find out more about Sandra, please visit her website, follow her on Twitter or check out her Facebook Page.

Author Matt Haig: Loving the Alien

CatchingTheCometsTailThis week, Catching the Comet’s Tail features author Matt Haig. I like to imagine that if, by some time-bending miracle, Rene Descartes could meet David Bowie at a space cafe where the only thing on the menu is peanut butter served on slices of philosophical bread, Matt would be there taking notes. Haig’s latest novel, The Humans, is a simple yet moving story that will have you weeping at the beauty and futility of it all. Welcome to the world of an author who puts the ‘sigh’ in sci-fi.

Matt Haig

Matt Haig photo by Clive Doyle

Matt on creativity…

“I think writing sometimes comes from intense experiences. You are not necessarily writing about those experiences but it helps me that I have had them. I think the body and the mind are very closely linked. When I used to have panic attacks, it was my heart and my mind going crazy together. You feel things and experience things and somehow these experiences turn into stories. It is a mystery. If you write non-fiction then you write with a clear knowledge of where your words stem from, but with fiction you are generally asking questions, not giving answers.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early literary influences?

“I was quite bookish but didn’t go to a school where being bookish was a good thing, so I often used to hide the fact from my friends. I loved all the usuals – Dahl, Jansson, SE Hinton…then, as a teen, Stephen King in a major way. But I think a lot of the writer sensibility comes from staring out of windows. I used to do that a lot, wrapped up in the comfort of my own imagination. My parents also took me to the theatre a lot and our house was a house of books.”

How long did it take to write The Humans and can you recall the first spark of inspiration?

“The Humans took me over a decade, technically, because I first had the idea for it in 2000 when I was suffering from panic disorder, and feeling alienated from the rest of my species. However, I was scared of writing it as a first novel for 2 reasons – firstly, I didn’t want to be labelled as a sci-fi writer, which technically this story is (in subject if not in spirit), and secondly, even though it was a fantasy, the story felt strangely personal, and it took a while to get the degree of honesty necessary. I needed to look at myself properly, and when you are 25 and trying to be cool that’s hard. The concept changed through the editing process. I am deeply proud of this book and don’t mind shouting about it from the rooftops. I think it is by far the best thing I have ever done, but it only got that way with the help of my editor at Canongate, Francis Bickmore. You see, the first draft would have literally alienated most readers. He told me to think of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and feed the weirdness in gradually and that is what I tried to do. And you know [a book] is finished when you have exhausted your editor and he says it is finished.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity, no matter what? And what, if anything, is guaranteed to kill it?

“I can only work at home. Preferably in my attic. But I can have music on or even the TV. I have tinnitus, so quiet is more distracting than noise. Twitter is a creativity-killer though.”

 What do you do when you feel blocked creatively?

“Go for a run. Or, if in a serious slump, get away on holiday.”

Please share a photo of something that connects with your writing process.

Matt Haig's Peanut Butter

Every writer needs it…peanut butter.

“My writing staple… peanut butter.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work? 

“Well, I have a great editor. And my wife is a writer, so I show her stuff and she tells me what she likes and what she doesn’t. But I am a shut-myself-away kind of writer to be honest.”

Where do you most like to be when you write, and do you have a daily routine? 

Matt Haig Writing

Matt’s favourite writing place.

“I hate writing at a desk so I can normally be found lounging around my house. This is my favourite spot.

I work three times as well in the morning as the afternoon. For every sentence I write in the afernoon, I can write a paragraph in the morning. So my rule is: START EARLY, FINISH EARLY.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master?

“I’d like to be a film director. My Dad is an architect. I’d love to design a building.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity?

“You have less time, so you become more productive. You use the time you have more wisely. You become more disciplined. I also think I have a more optimistic world-view. My style has become a little bit sunnier I think.”

What are you working on next?

“I have been asked to write a screenplay for The Humans. So, that!”

The Humans Matt HaigYou can find out more about Matt on his blog, or find him on Twitter and Facebook. His novel The Humans is out now from Canongate  Books.

Artist Ylva Kunze: Chance and Control

CatchingTheCometFinalWelcome to Catching the Comet’s Tail, a series of interviews with writers, artists and musicians discussing creativity and their creative process. This week,  I spoke to Swedish contemporary artist Ylva Kunze during her first London show, Artist in Residence. Her canvases, informed by the woods and lakes of her childhood in Småland, are deeply affecting, filled with kinetic fervour.  It was no surprise to me to discover that her name, Ylva, means ‘she-wolf’ in Swedish.

Ylva KunzeYlva on creativity and the creative process…

“For me, creativity is an urge that I have to act on. It’s a total body feeling, something I get if I see something that inspires me. I immediately want to act –  to experiment – there is a sense of urgency about it, like with everything in my life!  I don’t know where the urge comes from, but when I’m involved in the process of making a painting, I do sometimes wonder where the feeling begins. If, for some reason, I can’t get to my studio when I have the urge to create, I can put the feeling on hold and tap back into it. It’s a sense of wanting to try – like I am desperate to start the journey, the process. For me, creativity is about ‘finding out’ and the origin of it is not in my brain but my body. The urge might be to explore colours or experiment with the medium I am putting on the canvas. I never feel any fear around my process as it’s the actual doing that makes me creative –  it’s the doing that makes me discover new things.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early inspirations?

“Creativity was all around me as a child, for example, my dad made all our furniture. It’s a very Swedish way I think, this idea of making things; you don’t employ someone, you do it yourself. In school we studied textiles and woodwork from a young age. My mum has a studio and still paints. My childhood home was full of paintings, and my grandma, who was from Vienna, went to art school in the early 1900s. Her father was an architect who the worked on Vienna’s famous opera house and mixed in Art Nouveau circles.

However, I never thought I would be an artist ~ perhaps it was something to do with being in Sweden in the 1970’s, but I just didn’t see art as my path and didn’t discover it until I was in my 20s. I was traveling a lot, living in Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm and  Gothenburg before I came to London. I was living in a squat with musicians and meeting artists, and decided to start a foundation course in art at Chelsea. That’s when I painted for the first time. I still have my first painting. It was a dead animal project; three pig heads!

My grandma was one of my earliest artistic inspirations but I also remember, when I was about 10 years old, being blown away by the vastness of the paintings in the Louvre in Paris. It was the sheer size of them that took my breath away – a strong bodily sensation that I remember very clearly.”

How long have you been working on Artist in Residence and is the final result what you originally planned? 

“I found my painting voice about ten years ago. This process of placing canvases flat on the floor, using buckets and buckets of paint, mixing the paint with glue and the way I drag the paint across the canvas has been with me for some time. This show, Residence, took around two years to complete. A few paintings came about at the last minute and were still wet while I was hanging them.

It’s important to me to know the space I am showing in because I plan canvas sizes and the way I want the finished show to look. Hanging the pieces is a very important part of the process for me, and original concepts will change according to the space.”

How do you know when a painting is finished?

“I get a gut feeling when a painting is finished. I feel exhilarated. It makes me excited and that feeling is the whole reason for painting in the first place.  A painting is done when I feel a sense of unity with it.”

Who, what or where always inspires you?

“Walking in the the vast, raw woods in Småland inspires me; the beauty of the heavy snow glimmering on the tree branches; hearing my footsteps crunching the snow or swimming in a lake with just the sound of the birds and my arms stroking the water. That tranquillity, emptiness and space, rawness and simplicity, is a necessity for me. Being separated from it influences my work. To create, I have to sweat and get my whole body involved so the worst thing for me is to be still. I often do body painting where I’m heaving paint around physically, it’s very kinetic process for me.”

Is there a collaborative element to your creative process?

“When I am painting, I am a very private person so I never have anyone watch me while I paint, but the hanging of a show is a different matter. I love having people to bounce off at that stage and having my representative (Sarah Smith) has been fantastic for me. I needed that support otherwise I’d probably still just be in my studio not showing anyone anything! I am confident as an artist but wasn’t that confident about showing my work in London until I started to collaborate with Sarah.”

Ylva Kunze: Overalls and ClogsWhere do you most like to be when you paint and do you have a routine?

“My time is limited because I am a mum, but generally I turn up at my studio and plan what I’m doing, then I mix the paint which is a very meditative part of my journey. Painting grounds me, quietens me down. When the actual painting process begins, I like to have loud music in the background, XFM radio playing indie rock. I find the energy of London more conducive to painting than the Swedish countryside although my work is completely informed by the latter. The first thing you are told as a child in Sweden is, “Don’t go out into the woods because you will get lost like Hansel and Gretel… you will disappear.”

In my studio, I need complete freedom to make a big mess. I use so much paint, there are huge puddles of it everywhere. The photo on the left shows my overalls and my clogs literally clogged with layers of paint. My environment allows me to lose myself, just like I was warned not to as a child, in the smell of the paint, the music I play, and the paint itself.

It can be frustrating having to stop painting to pick up my children, but I have to look at it positively. I am a daytime person now but before children it was different. I have bad days and good days, but I can bring it on… I can bring on the she-wolf!”

Please share a special object that connects with your painting.

Boken om Lyckan

“This is a book my grandma gave me in my late teens when I was on a journey in my life. She was a fantastic person; at 85 she was wallpapering her own walls, a total inspiration. She wrote a special message inside it and it means a lot to me. Boken om Lyckan means ‘The Book of Happiness’. It makes me feel like my grandma is still here and reminds me of her inspiring character.”

Are there other creative art forms you wish you could master?

“There’s nothing I want to do other than paint, but a nice singing voice would be good! I used to dance a lot… that and horse-riding are other art forms I love.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity?

“Becoming a mum made me much less self centered. It changed my work in that I didn’t care so much about what people thought. I was less afraid to try new things once I had been through childbirth.  I did some of my best work when I was pregnant and have photos of me, huge, in my studio painting frantically. I did some really key pieces at that time. John Cage said, “When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas…” Motherhood gave me perspective, it helped me leave all those voices behind.”

What are you working on next?

“I am just breathing right now. I am going to carry on where I left off, ideas are brewing. I definitely have things that I need to do.”

You can find out more about Ylva on her website www.ylvakunze.com.

Motion II Ylva Kunze

Motion II

Ylva Kunze: Artist in Residence is showing at the C99 Art Project Gallery, 99 Chamberlayne Rd, Kensal Rise, London NW10 until 9th May.  Open Monday-Friday 10-5, Saturday 10.30am – 5pm, Sunday 4pm-7pm. Contact 0208 969 6154  Furthermore, a limited edition range of clothes using Ylva’s paintings from British label Me and Thee is available from www.lovekr.co.uk.